GEOFF MILLER; United States; Portraying the policy reality.

Recently the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command spoke in Sydney. He criticised China’s behaviour in very strong terms, but in talking about the United States’ role and attitudes he described a set of policies that no longer exist.

On 13th February Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, spoke in Sydney at the Lowy Institute, in the course of an Australian visit which included meetings with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister. In his address he criticised China for “pernicious” and “malign” behaviour. He spoke in quite extreme terms, referring frequently not to the Chinese Government but to “the Communist Party of China”. According to the “Sydney Morning Herald” of 14th February he said that “through excessive territorial claims, debt-trap diplomacy, violations of international agreements, theft of intellectual property, military intimidation and outright corruption, the Communist Party of China seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics and the way of life throughout the Indo-Pacific”.

He said that “as the Communist Party of China’s malign influence expands globally I want to be clear that the alliance between the US and Australia will be even more critical”. This, he said, was because of the importance the US placed on its network of alliance relationships, particularly in the Pacific; on the “rules-based international order”; and on free and fair international trade.

These are three concepts with which it is very hard to quarrel, but what is the reality? In regard to alliances, President Trump’s finding fault with the United States’ most important alliance, NATO, is notorious. In the Pacific, the US is at present trying to bully South Korea and Japan, two of its closest allies, into paying up to four times their present financial contributions to the upkeep of US forces in their countries, even though knowledgeable commentators say that, for example, it is already cheaper for the US to maintain its forces in Korea than it would be to maintain an equivalent force in the US itself.

As to the “rules-based international order”, in an interview published in the “Sydney Morning Herald” of 17th January Joe Hockey, retiring as Australian Ambassador to the US, and reported as having developed a close relationship with president Trump and his Administration, said that “Australia ha(s) to prepare for a world in which global forums such as the World Trade Organisation and the UN play increasingly marginal roles. ‘The US has basically torn up the whole multinational framework. Relationships are overwhelmingly bilateral not multilateral. And I don’t think this is exclusive to the Republicans’”.

In regard to world trade and the World Trade Organisation, it was recently reported (“Sydney Morning Herald”, 26th January) that the EU, China, Australia and 14 other countries are forming a voluntary trade disputes settlement mechanism. This is a response to the fact that the US has made the Organisation’s formal dispute settlement mechanism inoperable by refusing to agree to any nominations to its panel to adjudicate disputes and appeals. As a result the panel has either one or no members, as against a statutory minimum of three to hear any case.

So in the light of what the US is actually doing the contrast between the US and China drawn by Admiral Davidson is clearly an unreal one. In the Q and A which followed his address he spoke moderately, for example diplomatically declining various opportunities offered to criticise our Navy’s procurement program—and more than once describing the US and Australia as each other’s closest friend. But the picture his address presented of China was unusually harsh, particularly for someone speaking in a third country, and its picture of US policies and attitudes was frankly out-dated and not representative of present realities—-a description of a past era. It’s to be hoped that our Ministers with whom the Admiral spoke took what he said with a grain of salt.

Geoff Miller is a former Australian diplomat and government official.


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5 Responses to GEOFF MILLER; United States; Portraying the policy reality.

  1. Tony Kevin says:

    US Admiral Davidson and his admiring Australian interlocutors at Lowy Institute are living within a false narrative of a benign US hegemon upholding the post-WW2 rules-based international order. That order has not existed since the US – led coalition of the willing illegally bombed Serbia ( Yugoslavia) despite having no UNSC support for this aggression. That aggressive model has been repeatedly followed since by the US , with Australia as a loyal junior partner going along – in Georgia, Ukraine , Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria , Venezuela. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

    I am reminded of the crucial scene in the film ‘King Arthur’ , when the still-loyal Roman-British knight is told by the British princess Guinevere:

    ‘Arthur, the Rome you believe in no longer exists’ .

    Nor does the Washington that Admiral Davidson and his Lowy listeners still want to believe in.

    Which makes their openly hostile and provocative views on China equally suspect. Thanks, Geoff Miller and P and I , for exposing this false narrative.

  2. Anthony Pun says:

    The American paid “China Bashing Think Tanks” (CBTT) propaganda machine is giving more credibility to the Mearsheimer’s Theory each day. With current geopolitical lineup, Australia enjoys a privileged position in terms of being an “close” ally (Tier 1) followed by a second tier UK, NZ, Japan and south Korea, EU and a third tier, Philippine and SE Asian countries.
    Tier 3 allies could switch sides to China as they are “close” neighbours of China. Tier 2 allies may downgrade to Tier 3 when undue pressure (bully) is being applied. US will do all she can to keep Australia as Tier 1.
    This scenario is not difficult to perceive if you picture the US as the leading rich man in a village with different tiers of friends and their interactions. China as the rising rich man in the village and how these two hegemons will outdo each other or prepared to form a peaceful coexistence relations. Just like a Hollywood movie plot only deeper!

  3. Scott MacWilliam says:

    Of course, all US schoolchildren are taught that their country is not an imperialist power so unsurprising that Admiral Davidson portrays China through that lens. Turn the lens around and which is more pernicious out of the USA, with its hundreds of bases all around the world, and China becomes more apparent. Fortunately there are an increasing number of well-researched books published by substantial publishers, including in the US, who document the process of constructing the US’ `hidden empire’.

  4. Teow Loon Ti says:


    When Admiral Philip Davidson say that China does not observe “rules-based international order”, which international order does he refer to? Did the USA observe any rules-based international order when they invaded Iraq? Although it was more than a decade and a half ago, I remember seeing President Bush on TV saying that American soldiers involved in that war will not be subject to trial by the International Court of Justice. Perhaps the international order and the rules that he refers to are those set unilaterally by the US. It is little wonder that the head of Huawei detained in Canada is accused of this nebuluos “international rules-based order”.

    While I do not condone China’s taking of the islands in the South China Sea, I can understand why they did it. If one looks at the Pacific region, there is a swath of US military bases and allies to the NE and E of China: Guam, S. Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hawaii to name a few. The only passage left for China if a conflict should break out with the US is to its south and southwest. It stands to reason that they would want to protect this important trade route. Freedom of passage through this part of the South China sea for peaceful purposes such as trade has not been compromised. To put it simplistically, if someone very powerful who has a history of physically chastising those that they do not agree with or are in slight conflict with points guns at your front doorstep, wouldn’t you take action to protect your backdoor? Agressive behaviour provokes defensive responses.


    Teow Loon Ti

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